Lowell’s NSF-funded Large Monolithic Imager sees first light on the Discovery Channel Telescope


Galaxy NGC 891 as imaged by the Large Monolithic Imager (Lowell Observatory)

(Flagstaff, Ariz.) The Large Monolithic Imager (LMI), a camera built at Lowell Observatory and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), recently took a set of first-light images on Lowell’s 4.3-m Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT). At the heart of the LMI is the largest charge-coupled device (CCD) that can be built using current fabrication techniques and the first of its kind to be made by e2v. The 36-megapixel CCD’s active surface is 3.7 inches on a side. The LMI’s ability to provide much more accurate measurements of the faint light around galaxies separates it from cameras that use a mosaic of CCDs to produce images.

The attached first-light image is of NGC 891, an edge-on spiral galaxy about 30 million light-years away in the Andromeda constellation. The image was obtained by Lowell’s Phil Massey, Ted Dunham, and Mike Sweaton, and then turned into a beautiful color composite by Kathryn Neugent. The exposure consisted of 10×1 min (B), 5×1 min (V), and 6×1 min (R), all unguided.

In the coming months, astronomers from Lowell and its DCT institutional partners — Boston University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Toledo — will be getting many more images like this as the Telescope’s commissioning continues.

Science contact: Phil Massey, Astronomer and LMI Principal Investigator, Lowell Observatory, 928-233-3264, phil.massey[at]lowell.edu

Science contact (alternative): Deidre Hunter, Astronomer, Deputy Director for Science and LMI co-Investigator, Lowell Observatory, 928-233-3225, deidre.hunter[at]lowell.edu

Media contact: Chuck Wendt, Deputy Director for Advancement, Lowell Observatory, 928-233-3201, cwendt[at]lowell.edu


About the Large Monolithic Imager (LMI)

Built at Lowell Observatory and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the LMI is an all-purpose optical imager featuring a 36-megapixel CCD with a field of view nearly 13 arcminutes by 13 arcminutes. The LMI uses a single chip, which permits more efficient use of observing time (by not dithering), and far less reduction time, resulting in higher scientific throughput. The LMI will serve as the principal imager and workhorse instrument for the DCT, enabling studies from solar system to extragalactic objects. The instrument will allow the determination of the physical properties of comets and also provide the means of investigating the mass-luminosity relationship for both the highest and lowest mass stars. The LMI also sets a precedent for wide-field imaging with monolithic cameras, as well as for more efficient future mosaics. To maximize the field of view, the LMI is mounted at the straight-through position of the DCT’s Ritchey-Chretien instrument cube. The LMI CCD is a 6.1Kx6.1K 15-micron device produced by e2v, their first, with a high DQE 4-layer AR coating. The special coating makes the chip very sensitive over the entire visible spectrum, from the near ultraviolet to the near infrared. The LMI contains 18 filters, including broad-band and specialized interference filters.

A high-resolution version of the NGC 891 image can be found at here. More details about the LMI can be found here.


About the Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT)

The Discovery Channel Telescope – built by Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona – is among the most technically sophisticated ground-based telescopes of its size. The Telescope, the fifth largest telescope in the continental United States, is completed and being commissioned at a dark-sky site on the Coconino National Forest approximately 45 miles SSE of Flagstaff. The project is being undertaken in partnership with Discovery Communications. Construction and commissioning of the telescope and associated infrastructure will cost approximately $53 million. The telescope will significantly augment Lowell Observatory’s observational capability and enable pioneering studies in a number of important research areas. First light took place in May 2012. Institutional DCT partners include Boston University (in perpetuity), the University of Maryland, and the University of Toledo. For more information, please visit www.lowell.edu/dct.php.


About Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory is a private, non-profit research institution founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell. The Observatory has been the site of many important findings including the discovery of the large recessional velocities (redshift) of galaxies by Vesto Slipher in 1912-1914 (a result that led ultimately to the realization the universe is expanding), and the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Today, Lowell’s 20 astronomers use ground-based telescopes around the world, telescopes in space, and NASA planetary spacecraft to conduct research in diverse areas of astronomy and planetary science. The Observatory welcomes about 80,000 visitors each year to its Mars Hill campus in Flagstaff, Arizona for a variety of tours, telescope viewing, and special programs. Lowell Observatory currently has four research telescopes at its Anderson Mesa dark-sky site east of Flagstaff, and recently completed a four-meter class research telescope, the Discovery Channel Telescope. For more information, please visit www.lowell.edu.


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